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GANGSTERLAND by Tod Goldberg: Book Review

What does it say about me that I was rooting all the way for Sal Cupertine to come out on top?

Of course, you have to know that Sal is a stone-cold killer, a man who has actually lost count of how many men he’s “offed.”  More than fifty, certainly, he thinks, possibly up to one hundred.  And yet, and yet….

I’m hoping that what it says about me is not that I’ve lost my values and morals but rather than Tod Goldberg has written an extraordinary novel with a protagonist who does the most vicious things but somehow keeps you (or at least me) on his side.

Sal is a member of the Chicago Mafia, not a big-time gangster but more of an errand boy who is called when someone needs to be killed.  The victim might be another Mafia member or just someone who knows or sees something that might be dangerous to the mob.

He’s always been careful, which explains his extraordinary success rate, but one night something goes terribly wrong and he kills three F.B.I. agents and a confidential informant in a hotel room.  He contacts his cousin Ronnie, who is much higher up on the command chain to tell him the bad news, and Ronnie comes up with a plan.  The next thing Sal knows he’s in Las Vegas with a new face and a new identity.

Meet David Cohen, youth rabbi at Temple Beth Israel.  This is Sal’s new identity, 1,747.5 miles from the Windy City.  He also has a new religion, which he has to learn about very quickly, but luckily for him he’s known in mob circles as the Rain Man because he never forgets anything he’s seen or heard.

That will certainly come in handy when he has to learn everything in the Torah, the Mishnah, the Talmud, and the thousand other books of commentary and history of the Jewish peopl.  After all, on the Jewish calendar it’s now 5,781, so there’s a lot of backstory involved.

David’s Las Vegas minder is the son-in-law of Temple Beth Israel’s spiritual leader, Rabbi Kates.  Just what has the mob got on Kates, David wonders, to make him go along with this charade?  A lot, as it happens.

As all this is happening on the gangster front, Special Agent (soon to be ex-agent) Jeff Hopper is doing his best to find Sal; Jeff of course doesn’t know that Sal no longer exists and has become Rabbi Cohen.  The agent has become a pariah in the agency because it’s seen as his carelessness in putting the hotel room in his own name and thus causing the deaths of three of his fellow agents and one C. I.

Hopper has been demoted and forbidden to look for Sal, and when he disregards this order he’s fired.  But that doesn’t stop him, and he and a new recruit to the agency continue to search for the killer of their comrades.

Tod Goldberg has written a fascinating novel about killing as a way of life and a man who does it without apparently a shred of remorse.  It’s not even that Sal believe all the people he’s killed deserve it, it’s simply that killing them is his job and he does it efficiently.  But still there’s something human about him, as the reader sees in his desire to be reunited with his wife and young son after his forced move to Vegas.

You can read more about Tod Goldberg at this website.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden Oldies, Past Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.

PRODIGAL SON by Gregg Hurwitz

For want of sixty-five dollars, Andrew Duran became witness to a murder, a man fleeing for his life.  For sixty-five dollars.

All he wanted was to buy a present for his daughter to make up for the lousy father he’d been.  Then, a few weeks later after he’d given her the gift, a cop pulled him over because he was driving with a broken taillight.   He couldn’t pay the court costs, and the sixty-five dollars spiraled into jail time and a lost job.

Now Duran is working the overnight shift at a car impound lot when a man and a woman enter the lot, telling him they’re U. S. Marshals and need to be informed when a certain car is picked up.  That’s all he has to do, and they’ll give him a thousand dollars.  He’s desperate, so he agrees.

However, Duran senses that something is wrong, so he is not entirely surprised a few weeks later that as the car’s owner enters the lot, he is killed.  Not by a knife or gun, but by something invisible controlled by the man and woman, standing a few feet away from their victim.  And now the killers/fake Marshals are searching for him.

Enter Evan Smoak, a/k/a The Nowhere Man.  An orphan, or so he was led to believe, he was rescued at the age of twelve from the Pride House Group Home and trained by the federal government to be an assassin.  After years of doing exactly that, he left the program and has been using his skills to help those in desperate need who don’t have anywhere else to turn.  He called himself The Nowhere Man, asking those he helped for only one thing–to give his name and phone number to someone else who needs his assistance.

Now even that identity is over as a result of his killing a Very Important Person.  In order to receive a pardon for that act, Evan has promised no less a person than the President of the United States that The Nowhere Man will cease to exist.  But Evan is finding that it’s not that easy to construct a new identity, especially when he receives a phone call from a woman purporting to be his mother.

All the threads come together when Evan flies to Buenos Aires to meet her, a beautiful, enigmatic woman with a mysterious past.  She tells Evan about herself, all of which is new to him, then she reveals the reason she’s contacted him after all these years.  And although he’s promised himself, to say nothing of his promise to the president, that he’s done with being The Nowhere Man, he finds he cannot turn down his mother’s request.

The Prodigal Son shows the reader a different Evan Smoak from the one in previous novels.  He’s more introspective, more thoughtful, more compassionate.  After a lifetime of being Orphan X, these changes don’t come easily.  If he wasn’t happy as Orphan X or The Nowhere Man, at least he knew who he was and what was expected of him.  But now he’s feeling unsure, vulnerable, and he’s not certain how to handle it.

The protagonist in Prodigal Son is a fascinating character with nuances that weren’t apparent in earlier novels.  These make him more relatable, more human, and even more real to us.  Gregg Hurwitz has given his hero new dimensions.

You can read more about Gregg Hurwitz at this website.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden Oldies, Past Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.

 

 

 

TROUBLED BLOOD by Robert Galbraith: Book Review

Troubled Blood, the fifth novel featuring Cormoran Strike and Robin Ellacott, is, to put it simply, a masterpiece of mystery fiction.  It’s a long masterpiece, weighing in (and I don’t use that expression carelessly) at 927 pages, but it’s worth every page.

Strike’s private investigations agency is doing very well after a rocky start.  Robin is now his partner, they have hired two additional investigators and a secretary, and there is a waiting list for their services.  But although professionally things are going well for Strike and Robin, their personal lives are not so smooth.

Strike’s aunt Joan, who basically brought up Strike and his sister following the many times their unstable mother disappeared from their lives, is dying of cancer, and Strike is teetering between wanting to spend time with her and his inability to know how to behave with her at this difficult time.

He is also being bombarded by requests from his half-brother Al to join the family in celebrating their famous father’s 80th birthday and the release of his latest rock album.  Strike has absolutely no desire to see his father again; the two have met only twice in Strike’s life, and he tells Al not to call him again about this get-together.  But Al is persistent.

Robin, meantime, has her own issues.  She is separated from her husband, but Matthew seems determined to make their divorce as difficult as possible.  Even her attorney agrees.  “I’ve never known a childless divorce to be so contentious,” she tells Robin, as Matthew cancels mediation meeting after mediation meeting.  But Robin is determined to see the procedure through to the end.

While visiting his aunt in St. Mawes, Cornwall, Strike is approached by a woman with an unusual request.  She introduces herself as Anna and tells the detective that she’d like to talk with him about her mother, Margot Bamborough, who disappeared more than forty years earlier.  Although reluctant to get involved, Strike’s curiosity overtakes him and he agrees to visit Anna and her wife the following day to hear the entire story.

The search for Margot is at the center of Troubled Blood, but there are many, many subplots to the novel in addition to the story of Strike’s estrangement from his father and his step-siblings, his aunt’s imminent death, and Robin’s attempts to put her marriage behind her.  What is the true story of Margot’s medical practice?  Her marriage?  Her husband’s remarriage to their nanny?  Strike’s ex-girlfriend’s barrage of texts to him, each one more desperate than the one before?  Robin’s ill-at-ease feeling with one of the firm’s employees?

Troubled Blood is a fascinating novel in its own right that is made even better by being the fifth in the series.  If you start at the beginning with The Cuckoo’s Calling and read all the books, you can see the characters develop and grow.  Robert Galbraith/aka J. K. Rowling, is a master in describing the dozens of characters in this story, as well as writing a plot with an amazing ending.  This is a book worth spending time with, perhaps starting at Christmas and going straight through to New Year’s Day.

You can read about Robert Galbraith at this website.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden Oldies, Past Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.

 

 

 

 

MOONFLOWER MURDERS by Anthony Horowitz: Book Review

Moonflower Murders is a mystery novel with another mystery novel tucked inside it, a tour de force.  The talented and extremely prolific Anthony Horowitz has done it again.

Susan Ryeland was first introduced in Magpie Murders, a novel I greatly enjoyed but strangely didn’t review in this blog.  Well, I’m not about to make that same mistake with Susan’s second appearance.

In Magpie Murders, Susan was working in a publishing house and editing Alan Conway’s most recent novel.  Several years have gone by since then, and Conway has died.  Difficult as he was in life, he remains equally so in death.  One of Conway’s novels is what brings Susan to Branlow Hall at the request of the hotel’s owners, Lawrence and Pauline Treherne, to investigate the disappearance of their older daughter Cecily.

Eight years before Moonflower Murders opens, Cecily Treherne marries Aiden MacNeil at the family’s hotel.  Immediately after the ceremony the body of a guest, Frank Parris, is discovered in his room, and the wedding dissolves into chaos.  After a brief investigation, one of the hotel’s employees, a Romanian immigrant named Stefan Codrescu, confesses to the murder.  Stefan has been imprisoned ever since, but Cecily has continued to insist that he is innocent of the crime.

Just before she went missing, as the British say, Cecily calls her parents to tell them that she has proof that Stefan is innocent, proof that she found at the beginning of Alan Conway’s murder mystery Atticus Pünd Takes the Case.  The Trehernes tell Susan that several weeks after Parris was murdered, Conway came to Branlow Hall and stayed for a few weeks, interviewing family members and staff; he later published Atticus Pünd Takes the Case, obviously basing his book on the murder that took place at the hotel.

Now the Trehernes want to hire Susan to look into their daughter’s disappearance because she was the editor of Conway’s book.  They offer Susan ten thousand pounds to return to England from Greece, where she and her almost-fiancé own a small and less luxurious hotel than Branlow Hall, and find their daughter.  They don’t agree with Cecily’s belief that Stefan is innocent and don’t want her to investigate Parris’ death; their only wish is for Susan to locate the missing woman.

In true Golden Age style, there is a small group of people with a motive for murder, or, in this case, possibly a motive for murders This includes, but is not limited to Lisa, Cecily’s sister; Aiden, Cecily’s husband; Joanne and Martin Williams, sister and brother-in-law of Frank Parris; Eloise Radmoni, Cecily and Aiden’s daughter’s nanny; and Derek Endicott, an employee of Treherne’s hotel.  And the motives are the usual ones–jealousy, greed, and fear.

The most fascinating part of Moonflower Murders is that there is another complete book inside it–the aforementioned Atticus Pünd novel.  It’s a really clever conceit, so you’re actually reading two novels in one.  If you enjoy Golden Age mysteries that conclude with the protagonist confronting all the suspects in the library, or in this case the hotel’s lounge, you will love Moonflower Murders.

Anthony Horowitz, in addition to being the author of several adult mysteries, also writes the Alex Rider series for young adults and created both “Midsomer Murders” and “Foyle’s War” for PBS.  You can read more about him at this site.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden Oldies, Past Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.

THE MAN IN THE MICROWAVE OVEN by Susan Cox: Book Review

It’s been exactly five years since Susan Cox’s debut mystery, The Man on the Washing Machine, was published, but now, happily, Theo Bogart has returned in The Man in the Microwave Oven.

Theo, an English ex-pat, moved to San Francisco to escape the publicity surrounding two deaths.  Her upper-class family was the subject of intense tabloid coverage after her father killed her mother and then hanged himself while awaiting trial.  Theo fled to San Francisco, changed her hair color and her name, bought a run-down building that now houses her apartment and her shop Aromas, and is trying to keep a low profile and stay out of the news.  But somehow she keeps stumbling into murders.

Theo’s neighborhood, around Polk Street, is a mixture of two- and three-story apartment buildings, but now the threat of a fifteen-story condo coming to their community has started bitter disputes within the formerly friendly neighborhood association.  Katrina Dermody, one of the neighbors, is the lawyer representing Amos Noble, the man who wants to put the condo in Fabian Gardens, and Katrina has a scorched-earth policy to stop everyone opposing her.  She’s even been keeping files on her neighbors, Theo discovers, making notes on their vulnerabilities.  For blackmail purposes, Theo wonders?

Trying hard to live by her grandfather’s advice, “Courtesy costs nothing,” Theo sees Katrina’s car and decides to say hello.  She bends down at the driver’s side window and sees it’s covered with blood, and a closer look shows Katrina staring straight ahead, obviously dead.

There are many people with whom Katrina feuded, so there is no shortage of people who disliked her.  But enough to murder her, Theo wonders?

At the memorial service, Theo discovers a side to the attorney she had never known.  A distant cousin of Katrina’s who had been living with her tells the people attending the service that the deceased had been funding a small orphanage in her home town of Kiev for years.  “Katrina didn’t want her philanthropy to be widely known,” Gavin says, “but I feel she wouldn’t mind me telling you about it now.”  It’s almost enough to make Theo sorry for her dislike of the late lawyer…almost, but not quite.

Then a stranger comes into Aromas, a man with a thick Russian accent, who tells Theo that he’s an old friend of a man he thinks she knows.  He shows her a newspaper photo of her grandfather, but she is reluctant to tell the man of their relationship.  She promises to ask around but instead calls her grandfather directly, and she finds out that there are even more family secrets than she had suspected.

Theo Bogart is a delightful heroine, a woman trying to reinvent herself in a new country.  But she’s finding out that, like the story of her grandfather and her mother, once you pull on a thread in a story everything begins to unravel.  The novel’s plot and the many interesting and unusual characters make The Man in the Microwave Oven a terrific read.

You can read more about Susan Cox at this website.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden Oldies, Past Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.

 

HIP SET by Michael Fertik: Book Review

Oscar Orleans is not your typical Israeli name, but then Oscar Orleans is not your typical Israeli.  Born in the Congo, he arrived in Israel after escaping from his war-torn native country, converted to Judaism, and is now in the process of becoming a citizen.  He’s not the only Black Israeli, but he is the only one on the Tel Aviv police force, and he acts as a liaison to the city’s African community.

Early on Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath, Oscar is called by Inspector Kobi Sabinsky to the Dolphinarium, a building with a tragic past.  In 2001, the vibrant discotheque was blown up by a Hamas terrorist, killing 22 people, including the terrorist himself.  The innocent victims, mostly Jewish teenagers recently arrived from the Soviet Union, were torn apart by explosives and ball-bearings.   Since then the Dolphinarium has remained virtually empty, its horrific past dissuading any group from rebuilding.  But now an African corpse is lying there, continuing the venue’s history as a place of violent death.

Oscar immediately identifies the corpse as a member of the Toposas, a tribe from South Sudan.  His body had been scarified in the traditional manner of the Toposa people, with rows of wounds, now healed, on his belly and chest, a tradition for boys around the age of twelve or thirteen.

What, Oscar wonders aloud, is this young man’s story?  He explains to Sabinsky that the Toposas are a rural people, raising cattle, fighting other tribes, honoring their animistic traditions and refusing conversion to either Christianity or Islam.  They don’t have a formal education or jobs outside of the tribe.   So how did he get from South Sudan and why is he here?

Seeking answers, Oscar and Kobi visit Michael Alou Kuur Kuur, a member of South Sudan’s Dinka tribe, who has been living in Tel Aviv for fifteen years.  He had proclaimed himself a pastor and was the leader of the Sudanese population in the city, helping his people find jobs and keeping the peace among them.

Michael tells Oscar and Kobi that he had met the young man shortly after his arrival in the city.  The youth had  called himself Kinga, a respected name in his home country; perhaps he has been related to the famous Sudanese chief Kinga Longokowo, but, the pastor says, perhaps not.  His scarring, which according to tradition would have extended past his shoulders down his arms, did not extend that far, making the pastor think that he came from an aristocratic family who possibly foresaw a future for him outside of his tribe and even outside his country.

Oscar and Kobi then go the city’s morgue where an autopsy has been conducted.  The chief pathologist informs them that the dead man’s mouth showed amateur surgery on one of his teeth, and when she probed the tooth she found a gold nugget inside.  Sabinsky thinks this shows that the man had been a smuggler, but Oscar is not so sure.  Perhaps, he thinks, the gold was there for another reason.

Hip Set gives readers a look into the city through the eyes of an outsider, and that is what Oscar remains, even after two decades in Israel.  The fascinating hero and the exciting plot will carry you along until the last page.

You can read more about Michael Fertik at this website.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden Oldies, Past Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.